Nest x Madewell Maker Collective: Sheena Marshall’s Story of Personal Transformation, Intentional Brand Ethos, and Community Engagement
Since 2019, the Nest x Madewell Maker Collective (formerly known as Hometown Heroes) has fostered the strategic growth of independent makers around the US to take their businesses to the next level with grants, curated mentorship via Nest’s fellowship network, and market access on Madewell.com. Since its inception, the program has featured 16 classes of 157 makers across 31 states.
Sheena Marshall Jewelry, Class 15 Hometown Heroes’ top performer and the program’s first maker from Colorado, specializes in hand-crafted high-quality, hypoallergenic jewelry in solid gold, gold fill, and sterling silver; a true collection of classics that will outlive trends. Sheena explains the effect of the Hometown Heroes program on her business, intentional growth supported by her brand ethos, and a closer look into the community engagement your purchase supports when you shop small.
Tell us how your business came to be. What is your founding story?
My journey in jewelry design began during my high school years, as I crafted polymer clay bead bracelets and offered them to patrons during my waitressing shifts. Back then, I already had a strong desire to create a customer experience that left you with that warm, feel-good sensation.
After years of searching for jewelry that wouldn’t irritate my ultra-sensitive skin, I couldn’t find anything that worked for me and remained stylish. My ears, fingers, and neck kept reacting to the jewelry I tried. So, with many metalsmithing classes to hone my skills, I founded Sheena Marshall Jewelry with less than $100 and a ton of passion. The company has been entirely self-funded through a tremendous amount of dedicated effort.
Today, I specialize in crafting high-quality, hypoallergenic jewelry in solid gold, gold fill, and sterling silver. My goal is to provide you with the perfect finishing touch for your outfit, free from skin irritation and quick tarnishing. My designs are all about quality over quantity, offering pieces to cherish for years to come, making you feel confident and stylish.
In what stage was Sheena Marshall Jewelry (SMJ) before launching on Madewell.com, and when did you decide to pursue your business full time?
In 2022, I marked my 13th year as an elementary teacher, and it was a significant turning point. During the spring of that year, I received the life-changing news that I had been accepted into the Nest Hometown Heroes program. Throughout that year, I continued my full-time teaching commitments while diligently preparing for the Madewell launch.
By November of the same year, my jewelry business achieved remarkable success, owing to a combination of strategic promotion through social media and leveraging every opportunity provided by Nest and Madewell. In the spring of 2023, my business had grown to a point where my family felt comfortable with me leaving my teaching job to pursue my jewelry business full-time. This transition was truly transformative and marked a profound shift in my life.
It’s incredible to hear the Madewell x Nest program was the tipping point of years of hardwork and perseverence. Other than your outstanding sales performance on Madewell.com, which resource or opportunity was most beneficial from the Nest x Madewell Hometown Heroes experience?
The Nest x Madewell Hometown Heroes program has been a turning point in my journey. Beyond the excellent sales performance on Madewell.com, what impacted me most was the sense of community and connections it provided. I’ve forged valuable relationships with fellow small business owners, and these connections have been an endless source of support, allowing us to share experiences, challenges, and successes. It’s a reminder of the strength that comes from being part of a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
You make every piece of jewelry in your home studio by hand. How do you maintain this style of work with the increased volume in sales? Has your team grown?
I’m currently facing the challenge of maintaining my handcrafted jewelry style as sales volume increases. I’m actively exploring options to scale the business while preserving quality, such as optimizing production processes or expanding my workspace. Balancing growth with the uniqueness of each piece is my key concern, and I’m committed to finding a solution.
I’ve hired several contract workers including an accountant, bookkeeper, and photographers. Additionally, I’ve brought on three women, all current or former elementary teachers, to assist in managing and running in-person events. Local job creation is a key part of my scaling plan, supporting both my operations and the community’s employment.
SMJ is committed to timeless, high quality pieces. Each piece is hand-crafted: an inherently slow process. How is SMJ growing intentionally and avoiding the pressure of fast moving trends and seasonal shopping patterns?
I’m growing deliberately by prioritizing quality over quantity. I’m staying true to my brand ethos by exploring sustainable options like working with solid gold. This approach ensures each piece reflects craftsmanship and aligns with my commitment to quality and sustainability.
To stay true to quality over quantity and resist trends, we focus on timeless designs and craftsmanship, avoiding the pressure of constant novelty in seasonal shopping patterns. Our goal is to provide lasting, meaningful pieces that endure.
Can you elaborate on your “commitment to sustainability”? What types of materials are considered “sustainable” in the jewelry industry?
The sustainability of my designs involves several aspects. In my Demi-Fine Collection, sustainability is achieved through materials and practices aimed at longevity and eco-consciousness. For this collection, I use gold fill—a sustainable metal comprising a layer of 14k gold pressure bonded to high-quality brass. This method ensures allergy-friendliness, tarnish resistance, and durability, offering longer-lasting wear compared to typical jewelry. I also use sterling silver in this collection, known for its durability and timelessness.
As I scale, transitioning to solid gold becomes a pivotal step for sustainability. Solid gold ensures longevity and durability, making it an investment piece—an heirloom meant to be passed down through generations. Solid gold is one of the most sustainable options.
Moreover, sustainability is integrated into our packaging. Every aspect is thoughtfully sourced with sustainability in mind, down to the curbside recyclability, including the shipping labels. This holistic approach, from materials to packaging, embodies the commitment to sustainability and quality in every facet of the jewelry line.
Other than your beautiful jewelry, how is SMJ creating value for your customer?
One way we create value for our customers beyond our jewelry is by actively educating them about the art of handmade craftsmanship and the associated processing times. We believe in keeping the tradition of handmade alive and want our customers to understand why the quality of our pieces is worth the wait compared to fast fashion brands.
We share knowledge about the intricate processes involved in crafting our jewelry, the attention to detail, and the passion that goes into each piece. By doing so, we empower our customers with a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship behind their purchase. It’s not just about buying jewelry; it’s about investing in artistry and sustainability, and we are dedicated to fostering this connection between our customers and our brand.
In what way is your business helping to advance social good or engagement within your community?
SMJ is actively advancing social good and community engagement in two distinct ways. Firstly, we offer jewelry workshops for adults, which not only teach the art of handmade jewelry but also provide a space for skill-sharing and building connections. These workshops emphasize the uniqueness of creating personalized pieces.
Additionally, during the summer, we conduct children’s jewelry making classes for ages 5 to 9. These classes aim to instill in young minds the value of handmade items, encouraging creativity and fostering an appreciation for craftsmanship.
Our mission is to promote community bonding and the importance of handmade creations, whether it’s with adults seeking a creative outlet or children learning the beauty of crafting by hand. We believe that by sharing the joy of handmade jewelry, we can contribute to a more connected and creative community.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the artisan/maker field?
One valuable piece of advice I would offer to aspiring entrepreneurs in the artisan/maker field is to find your core values and establish a guiding pillar that you consistently refer back to. This foundational principle will serve as a compass for your decision-making process and help you stay true to the initial passion that inspired you to start your business in the first place. In the ever-evolving business landscape, holding onto your values will not only keep you focused but also enable you to create a brand that truly resonates with your audience and stands the test of time.
Where can we find you?
You can easily find my products online at sheenamarshall.com, available 24/7.
Follow Sheena Marshall Jewelry at @sheenamarshalljewelry
Are you a US based maker working in the apparel, accessories, or homewares space? Learn more about the Madewell Maker Collective here.
The Artisan Voices blog explores the histories, experiences, pivotal moments, and innovative initiatives in an artisan or maker business while celebrating craft, community, and culture.
All photos courtesy of Sheena Marshall Jewelry.